Demystifying the Park Chung-Hee Myth

In “Demystifying the Park Chung-Hee Myth: Land Reform in the Evolution of Korea’s Developmental State” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2017.1334221), Jong-Sung You of the Australian National University’s Department of Political & Social Change, seeks to unravel some of the underpinnings of claims regarding South Korea’s developmental state.

His article is now available at the publisher’s website for those with subscriptions.

The abstract of the paper states:

The developmental state literature emphasises the importance of state autonomy and capacity, with a particular focus on a Weberian type of meritocratic bureaucracy. Existing studies of South Korea’s economic development generally credit Park Chung-hee for establishing such a state. This article questions this assessment with careful process tracing of the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy in the country. The findings suggest that the contrast between the predatory Rhee regime (1948–1960) and the developmental Park regime (1961–1979) has been exaggerated. Meritocracy in South Korea’s bureaucratic recruitment and promotion systems developed gradually over several decades, including during Rhee’s regime as well as the short democratic episode (1960–1961). What then explains the evolution of a developmental state in Korea? This article suggests that land reform contributed to not only creating social structural conditions favourable to state autonomy but also promoting the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy by propelling rapid expansion of education and by mitigating the extent of political clientelism.

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